Friday, July 30, 2010

In The Late Bright

Wrapping up this (half) month of Tommy Keene with a discussion of his most recent offering In The Late Bright. This came out early last year, and was probably my most-played album of 2009. He's still got it, in case there was any doubt.

Here's a solo live performance of one of the better songs from the album, "Save This Harmony".

I made it through two weeks of Tommy Keene posts without ever typing the words "power" and "pop" next to each other. Not even once! What do I win?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crashing The Ether

Listening to these albums in order, it's amazing how little Tommy Keene's sound has changed over the years. His recording career has spanned three decades, but the albums have very few trappings of the times. The quality ebbs and flows a little, but everything sounds like a Tommy Keene album.

With that, I thought Crashing The Ether was a welcome return to form after the semi lull of Tommy's two previous albums. He recorded it at his home studio, playing everything except drums himself, but it sounds just as fully realized as his best full band recordings. He might need an editor, because a few of the songs are a bit overlong, but the playing and songwriting is all top notch.

Tommy put out a collaboration with Robert Pollard called Blues And Boogie Shoes a few months after the release of Crashing The Ether that sounds like the Robert Pollard singing new lyrics over CTE backing tracks. As a listening experience, it's kind of up and down, but "Death Of The Party" may be one of the best RP or TK songs of the last decade.

Could that backing track be anyone but Tommy Keene?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down

2002's The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down is the only Tommy Keene album that doesn't have its own wiki page. It's another one I don't find myself playing very much, mostly because I've only got it as a super low quality 128kbps download from the early days of emusic.

Merry-Go-Round was one of the first albums I downloaded from emusic, back when they were all you can eat, and I liked a few of the songs (the opener "Begin Where We End", "Blue Sky", "Circumstance"), but found the rest of the album kind of unmemorable, and don't think I made it through all 16 minutes of "The Final Hour" more than once (if that!).

Listening to Merry-Go-Round now, I'd like to hear it in higher quality, but it came out on a record label that doesn't exist anymore (Spin-Art), so it's completely out of print in all forms, even digital. I could probably find a copy under "Misc. K Used" in one of those old-fangled record shoppes, but haven't been motivated to look for it over the last eight years. Make of that what you will.

Here are Emitt Rhodes & the Merry Go Round playing Hollywood Palace (introduced by Don Knotts!)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Isolation Party

Tommy Keene's second Matador album Isolation Party has always sounded to me like a triple-A followup to Ten Years After. Listening to these albums in order shows that Tommy's career has been fairly consistent over the years, without many peaks or troughs, but there are certain albums I come back to and others that I don't. And Isolation Party is one of the ones that I don't.

The opening track, "Long Time Missing" starts things off with one of the best guitar riffs ever, and the cover of Mission of Burma's "Einstein's Day" may be better than the original (heresy!) but the second half of the album runs out of steam. It was recorded in Arizona with a cast of many (Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett from Wilco, Jeff Murphy from Shoes, Jesse Valenzuela from the Gin Blossoms) which makes things sound mainstream, and not in a good way. Not my least favorite Tommy Keene album, but not in the top five either.

Here's a live version of another song from Ten Years After.

I saw Tommy Keene live for the second time on Isolation Party tour, at the Peacock Lounge in SF, a tiny little bar in the Lower Haight were I've never seen any other shows. He put out a live album from the 1998 tour that sounded like the same show he put on that night, but was probably a different show on the same tour, with the same setlist. Good setlist though. If you encore with "Back To Zero Now" and "Places That Are Gone", everyone is guaranteed to go home happy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten Years After

With time running out in the month of July, I'll be going over Tommy Keene's five most recent studio albums over the next five weekdays. The last fifteen years of his career have been at least as productive as the first fifteen.

Ten Years After was Tommy's first album with his new band, and his first album of the 90s. The title is either a reference to his major label debut (ten years after SFTF) or the band of the same name.

Ten Years After the album rocks as hard as Ten Years After the band, but still sounds like a Tommy Keene album. Thirteen songs (including an unlisted Who cover at the end) that I played frequently and loudly during the first half of 1996. The opening 1-2 punch of "Going Out Again" and "Turning On Blue" demand to be played at full volume, neighbors and ears be damned.

Here's the video for "Turning On Blue".

From Tommy's Matador bio:
In 1996, Tommy toured the UK with Oasis as lead guitarist for support act, Velvet Crush. Noel Gallagher asked a British journalist.. "Who's the clever fucker with the Telecaster?" The journalist noticed, "Don't you think he looks a bit like you Noel" to which his reply was "Bollocks, but e's not half bad...Bastard!"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quite independent, never caring

Here's one of those between album things that Tommy Keene did, a collaboration with the Gin Blossoms doing "Carrie-Anne" on the brillant Sing Hollies.. tribute.

The 1995 Hollies tribute really is one of the best albums of its kind. I said back in the day that the first five tracks are by artists from whom I'd buy almost anything -- The Posies, Tommy Keene, The Loud Family, Steve Wynn, and Mitch Easter. Only two bad songs on the entire record.

I was a little surprised to see Tommy working with the Gin Blossoms, but it seemed to help his career, and I've always suspected that he had a hand in writing some of their later songs (like "Til I Hear It From You"). I liked this exchange in a recent popmatters interview.
Q. If you had a choice, would you rather be known strictly for one or two singles or do it the way you’ve done it?

A. Well, take the Gin Blossoms, who used to be friends of mine, kind of. The guy who wrote the three songs that got them a deal, they fired him and he ended up killing himself. But they’re still out there making lots of money playing his three songs. I don’t think they are critically acclaimed or ever were, but it’s a career. I don’t know ... you can’t choose.

"used to be friends of mind, kind of." Burn!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Real Underground

Tommy Keene was dropped by Geffen shortly after the release (and subsequent non-promotion) of Based On Happy Times, but resurfaced a few years later with a new band (Brad Richardson on bass and John Quinn on drums) and put out an EP called Sleeping On A Rollercoaster on Matador Records.

A few months later, Alias put out a Tommy Keene compilation called The Real Underground, which featured a song called "Sleeping on a Rollercoaster", which was apparently an outtake from the EP. It was a heady time to be a Tommy Keene fan, with back to back releases after many years of no activity.

The Rollercoaster ep was pretty good, but I think The Real Underground is one of the best collections ever. It's kind of a hodgepodge of early EPs and later unreleased tracks, without anything from Strange Alliance or the Geffen era. It was similar to Game Theory's Distortion Of Glory that came out around the same time on the same label, and it was the one release that turned me into a dyed in the wool Tommy Keene fan.

Tommy and his new band did a tour to promote The Real Underground, which was my first opportunity to see him live. It was an under-promoted show on a weeknight in front of 20-30 true believers at SF's Bottom of the Hill, but Tommy and his band still rocked the roof off the place -- playing old songs from the 80s, songs from the EP, and new songs that they hadn't released yet. And since they were playing San Francisco, they closed with this song.

That show was my first exposure to "the pop underground", and it was stunning to discover in the pre-net era that there were other people in my own community who knew all the words to "Shake Some Action". I later found global communities of people like me, thanks to the internet.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Based On Happy Times

Tommy Keene's second Geffen album, Based On Happy Times, came out a few years after Songs From The Film, during which he'd fallen off my front page.

In the the pre-internet times of 1989, I'd almost forgotten about Tommy Keene when I found a used promo cassette of Happy Times at the local store. "He's still around? And he's got a new album too!". On my first few listens, I didn't hear any standout tracks, so I filed Happy Times and forgot about it. The album is kind of a "grower" though, because twenty years later, it's my favorite Tommy Keene record.

The title Based On Happy Times is kind of ironic, because the whole album is kind of a downer theme-wise, a bunch of sad songs only offset by a cover of the Beach Boys' "Our Car Club" with Peter Buck on guitar. Buck also plays mandolin on the final song "A Way Out", which sounds like something off of R.E.M.'s Green.

Based On Happy Times was recorded in the same studio as Green (Ardent in Memphis) at the same time, and sounds like all the slow songs from that album without the "Get Up" or "Stand" type songs. It deserved to be just as big a hit too, but it was more or less forgotten on release, and fell out of print almost immediately.

But its reputation has grown of the years (the Goo Goo Dolls covered "Nothing Can Change You" as a b-side, back when they were popular) and Happy Times becake one of Tommy Keene's most sought after albums, especially on CD. Back in the late 80s, major labels didn't press many CDs for second-tier acts like Tommy Keene. I had it on tape and vinyl, but was resigned to never have it on CD until I discovered a few months ago that it had been secretly reissued as a digital download at amazon and iTunes. Happy times indeed!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Run Now

About six months after the release of Songs From The Film, Geffen released an ep called Run Now with a title track featured in the movie "Out Of Bounds" (following up Songs From The Film with a song from a film), a few leftovers from the Dixon/Burnett sessions (including a reissue of "Back Again"), and a live version of Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons" that I like more than the studio version.

Tommy Keene also made a cameo in "Out of Bounds" (an Anthony Michael Hall movie that I've never seen -- lucky me!) playing "Run Now" for about 20-30 seconds. That appearance isn't on youtube, but here's the song playing over a cover of the soundtrack album.

The rest of the soundtrack features songs by Night Ranger, Sammy Hagar, and the Smiths. Ah.. the 80's movie soundtrack!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Songs From The Film

Shortly after the Back Again ep, Tommy Keene started recording a full length LP with T-Bone Burnett and Don Dixon. They cut a bunch of demos at Reflection studios(some are available here), but before they finished the album, Tommy signed a major label contract with Geffen. This gave him the means and direction to re-record his new songs in a big studio with a big name producer (Geoff Emerick of Beatles, Badfinger, Costello, etc. fame) to make a proper 80s album that could get played on rock radio and MTV.

The resulting album, Songs From The Film is probably the closest Tommy Keene has come to having a hit, but wasn't nearly as successful as he or Geffen had hoped. With all the label shuffles, it didn't come out until 1986 (two years after the Burnett/Dixon sessions) which put the brakes on some of the momentum that Tommy was building up after the acclaim for Places That Are Gone. It didn't help that the first single was a re-recording of "Places" leading many of his old fans to think it was a reissue of the 1984 ep, and it came out at a time (mid-80s) when independent music fans were skeptical of anything associated with a major label.

Songs From The Film was a classic "between the cracks" album (too glossy for the indie crowd but not really in line with the pop mainstream) but was still as close as Tommy Keene ever came to having a hit. "Places That Are Gone" and "Listen To Me" got in semi-regular MTV rotation, which piqued my curiosity enough to pick up the record (tape, actually), but it took awhile for the whole thing to click with me.

Even now, I like most of SFTF, but still think it's a few notches short of classic. For one thing, I've never understood the cover of Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons", which doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album. "Underworld" is also longer than it should be (even though its lyrics have a new poignancy since TK "came out"), and the re-recorded version of "Places That Are Gone" is also unnecessary once you hear the ep version.

This album wasn't originally issued on CD, but Geffen reissued it in 1998 with eight bonus tracks (mostly from the Run Now ep), but committed the cardinal sin of putting some of them in the middle of the running order. That CD is now long OOP, but there are a bunch of SFTF songs on the new compilation (including an alternate T-Bone Burnett version of "Gold Town") and Tommy will be performing the album in order on his Fall tour. Here's another version of the only Tommy Keene song on youtube.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back Again (Try..)

Tommy Keene's second 1984 ep (after Places That Are Gone) was the four track, Back Again (Try..), which had two original TK songs produced by T-Bone Burnett and Don Dixon at Reflection Studios in NC, the same place where Dixon and Mitch Easter co-produced the first two R.E.M. albums.

The other two songs on the EP are live covers of Roxy Music's "All I Want Is You" and the Stones' "When The Whip Comes Down" recorded in July 1984 at the Rat in Boston. Tommy Keene's band, with bassist Ted Nicely and drummer Doug Tull, were gaining a live rep along the East coast in the early 80s (whenever Tommy Keene comes up on the internet, someone will mention seeing him open for some Flock of Haircuts flavor of the month at some club in DC in nineteen-eighty-whatever) so it's nice to hear some of his live work, but Tommy's such a distinctive singer and writer that cover songs aren't really his thing. More on that later.

Anyhow, here's a youtube of both original tracks from the EP -- fast forward through the first 30 seconds in for the good stuff!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back to Zero Now

From the bio
In 1984, a six-song platter of pop perfection titled Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) put Tommy Keene onto the CMJ charts and atop the Village Voice EP of the Year poll. Blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet but absolutely invigorating, it was the sort of record that you could put on before you went out on a Saturday night, or sit around and mope to if you didn’t feel like facing the world.

It still stands as a powerful statement, not only establishing Tommy as a unique singer-songwriter, but also as a guitarist with a sound as distinctive as Pete Townshend or Johnny Marr.

The title track of PTAG is probably one of the half dozen best power pop songs ever, but I think it might be the second best song on the EP. The best song is "Back to Zero Now" (first song on side two), which was the song that stamped Tommy Keene as a unique talent. It originally came out as a single in 1983 (tacked on to a reissue of Strange Alliance) and is the first song on his career compilation. One of the best songs ever written by anyone, ever, full stop.

There isn't a version of "Back to Zero Now" on youtube (there was one that was removed for "terms of use" violation -- WTF?), so here's the same version of "Places That Are Gone" from Conan I posted earlier.

The best Tommy Keene video on youtube.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Strange Alliance

Now that the World Cup is over, I'm kicking off the half-month of Tommy Keene with a post about Strange Alliance, his 1982 debut,

This record was self-released in a limited run of a few thousand copies 28 years ago, and has never been reissued in any format, so it's extremely rare and hard to find (which does not equate to "good"). Tommy's nw compilation (which came out today!) is listed with a date range of 1983-2009, which leads me to believe that he's trying to sweep SA under the rug.

Not Lame tried to reissue Strange Alliance a few years ago, but ran into rights issues, so it's still a rarity. One friend who lived in D.C. back in the day made me a tape of SA while ago, so I've heard it, and it's pretty good, even though it does sound very much of it's time, heavy on the reverb with a Steve Lillywhite early U2 feel. Kind of the sound of a promising talent before he found his voice.

Obscure records have become easier to find in this internet age, and Strange Alliance is available here as a rapidshare link, for those who are curious about what it sounds like but don't want to pay collector prices. There isn't a lot of TK on youtube, so I might have to resort to "imaginary Tommy" for many of these posts.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

España, campeones del mundo!

I watched today's World Cup final at Civic Center plaza with a few thousand friends from both sides of the Netherlands-Spain conflict. I watched the Germany-Spain semifinal at CC Plaza during my lunch hour on Wednesday, and enjoyed the camraderie and companionship of watching a match with a bunch of fellow fans without having to drink beer (something you can't do during the workday!).

Today's crowd was about five times larger than Wednesday's, and there were two large screens set up with Spain supporters on one side and Holland supporters on the other side. They were selling $6 sangrias for the Spanish fans and 6$ Heinekens for the Dutch fans (so much for not drinking beer, but it wasn't a workday!).

I was wearing an orange Barça jersey (Spanish team in Dutch colors) to appear "neutral", and could wander to either side of the plaza as the game went on, plus I actually didn't have a real horse in the game. I just wanted it to be a good game, which it really wasn't, so it was nice to stay busy with people watching and drinking without having to focus too much on the scoreless play.

There are lots of folks in the USA and around the world who only watch soccer every four years during the World Cup final, and I feel sorry for these folks, because final games almost never live up to their billing. They're like Super Bowl games in that other kind of football.

Today's game was 0-0 through regulation time, with Spain controlling possession but neither team making much of a threat, and lots of choppy play. I was pretty sure it would end up going to penalty kicks after a couple of extra periods, which is the I think is the wrong way to determine a world championship of anything. I think it should be play until someone scores, just like they do in hockey, even though that doesn't work as well with 11 players running 100 yards with no substitutions.

Luckily, this one didn't go to kicks because Barça's Andres Iniesta scored a goal in the 117th minute to put Spain on the board, and they held on for the next three minutes to win 1-0 going away. All four of their knockout victories were by the same score (1-0), and I think goalkeeper Iker Casillas was the man of the Cup for only allowing two goals in the entire tournament, but their back line was rock solid as well. After Spain scored (usually late in every game), there was no way they were going to lose.

Congratulations to Spain for a well deserved first ever World Cup title and South Africa for a great Cup. And that German octopus for picking almost every game correctly. I'm feeling sad that it's all over, but I could go a long time without hearing another vuvuzela. Those things were all over the place at Civic Center plaza today!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Close our eyes to the octopus ride

My World Cup picks weren't that great (I picked Brazil vs. Argentina in the final, and Spain and the Netherlands to be eliminated in the quarterfinals), and now I'm torn because the parakeet picked Holland while the octopus picked Spain.

I'm siding with Paul the octopus because Syd Barrett never wrote a song about a parakeet. Viva España!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Semifinal #2 (Viva España!)

After 62 games, the matchup for the third place game in the 2010 World Cup this Saturday is now set, and it's Uruguay vs. Germany. This means that the final is Netherlands vs. Spain, an interesting clash between the two best countries who've never won a World Cup.

Either Spain or Holland will win their first World Cup on Sunday, which will cause joy and pandemonium in one of these countries. I'm not sure who to cheer for, because they're both teams that I respect and admire. I'll be happy for whoever wins on Sunday, but mostly sad that the World Cup is over.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Semifinal #1 (Dutch delight!)

My month of Tommy Keene will start next week after the World Cup is over. His career compilation comes out on 7/13, and he's only made eight albums in 30 years, so it shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to go over Tommy's entire career. On to the Cup!

The Netherlands are the first finalist in the 2010 World Cup after beating Uruguay 3-2. Their opponent will be determined tomorrow when Germany plays Spain, but either way it will be an all-European final. I was expecting an all-South American final -- a similar result with a different continent.

As a Barca fan, I never liked Arjen Robben or Wesley Sneijder at Real Madrid, but they play well together and are fun to watch. Right now I'm pulling for a Spain-Holland final that will give some team their first World Cup ever.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bottom 28

Now that the World Cup Semifinals are set, here are the FIFA tournament rankings for the 28 teams that didn't make it.

5. Argentina
6. Brazil
7. Ghana
8. Paraguay
9. Japan
10. Chile
11. Portugal
12. USA
13. England
14. Mexico
15. South Korea
16. Slovakia
17. Ivory Coast
18. Slovenia
19. Switzerland
20. South Africa
21. Australia
22. New Zealand
23. Serbia
24. Denmark
25. Greece
26. Italy
27. Nigeria
28. France
29. Honduras
30. Algeria
31. Cameroon
32. North Korea

This just ranks the tournament performances without taking any pre-tournament rankings into account, but if you rank the teams by most impressive to most disappointing, the bottom three would be England, Italy, and France. Semifinals kick off tomorrow for the other four!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

WC Days 20-21 (on to the Final 4!)

After 20 days and 62 games, here are the matchups for the World Cup semifinals.

Germany vs. Spain
Netherlands vs. Uruguay

Brazil and Argentina, my two picks for the finals, were eliminated yesterday and today, which changed the outlook from a possible all-South American final to a probable all-European one. The only South American team remaining is Uruguay, the one that no one probably picked to go this far.

The semifinal between Spain and Germany is a rematch of the 2008 Euro Final, and I'm hoping for Spain to pull it out again. An all European final between Spain and Holland would be a good one to watch. The semis are this week (Tue and Wed) and the finals are next Sunday.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back Again (Try..)

Happy July! These last two football-free days have been tough for me, but the World Cup will be back tomorrow with two quarterfinals -- Netherlands v. Brazil and Uruguay v. Ghana, followed by two more on Saturday -- Argentina v. Germany and Paraguay v. Spain.

Anyway, with the Cup winding down (just seven matches to go!), I need to find another blogging theme for the rest of July. In honor of Tommy Keene's new double disc career retrospective Tommy Keene You Hear Me (love that title!), I'm revising my artist of the month theme, with Mr. Keene as my artist for July.

Which will be one month of me finding different ways to say
"Tommy Keene rules!" These are places that are gone, now we can go on and on..

Note the late Jay Bennett (pre-Wilco) on guitar.